Thursday, March 02, 2006

The Healthcare Crisis: Adolescence Revisited

If I Only Knew Then What I Know Now

The most important and enduring lessons learned along the way in life are usually the most personal. In my recent journeys I discovered this simple truth once again. I write in a journal almost every day and have done so for years. Toward the end of last year I noticed a disturbing trend in my daily observations. They tended to revolve around the issue of the healthcare crisis in the United States and my increasingly negative opinions of it. There was no shortage of disparaging remarks and they covered the gamut. The list included: medical liability, health insurance companies and their CEO's, trial lawyers, hospitals, government officials and of course my fellow colleagues. I had enough and I quit. I closed my practice and went on a sabbatical. It was one I believed would be a permanent one from the healthcare industry. One day something happened and that all changed.

I Would Ask Different Questions

It was a typical day. I woke up, made some coffee and sat down to write in my journal. It was now just over three months since I last worked in healthcare. I was about to begin another journal entry in what would have been another rant on the despicable state of our Healthcare System. As I picked up the pen a question crossed my mind. What if I'm wrong? What if all my negative musings were the result of how I framed questions and not an accurate reflection of what was really happening in healthcare. There is an amazing property of the mind. When asked a question, it seeks an answer. (News reporters learn this early in their career and use it to their advantage when investigating a story.) Often-times the answer the mind seeks comes back in a form that mirrors the emotional and intellectual state from which it was generated. If you ask what is wrong with this god-for-saken Healthcare System the mind will seek problems that support that view of the system. As it turned out it was not a typical day. I started asking different questions and started getting different answers. It wasn't until I completely separated from the actual practice of medicine that I could begin to view it from a completely different perspective and ask different questions.

Seek Different Answers

That one simple question made all the difference. It led to a different way to not only view healthcare but also became a tool to ask questions that led to a deeper understanding of the Healthcare System. What if what we experience as a healthcare crisis is really a transition point in the growth or evolution of healthcare? That would mean we are transforming from a system we have known all our lives into one with which we have no previous experience. The process seems frightening and conjures up images of a crisis on a daily, if not constant, basis. For some it may seem like puberty and adolescence revisited. That period of time when we undergo the physical, psychological and social changes that takes us from childhood to adulthood. No one would doubt the importance of such an important period of time in human development or the necessity of the changes that must occur, but just try to point that out to an adolescent. Their daily lives are filled with more important concerns like: acne, dating, popularity, peer pressure, good grades, getting a driver's license and appearing independent, especially from their parents. They really don't have the time, inclination and in some cases the emotional and intellectual capacity to "get the big picture". It isn't until we emerge out of adolescence that we can take in that view. Even then we move on to the next phase of development and leave behind such valuable insights.

And Live a Fuller Life

So back to my original question, "What if I got it wrong?" What if the healthcare crisis is a transformative process? What if all of the problems we accumulatively interpret as a crisis are really the necessary and oftentimes painful steps required for our Healthcare System to transform from what it is to what it can become. It doesn't mean that the problems we experience on a daily basis are not real problems. They are. It is understanding their role in that process. Healthcare has undergone many transitions. There once was a time when we had no antibiotics to fight infection, chemotherapy to fight cancer and surgery to treat operable pathologies. Sewage disposal, water treatment and public health policy were non-existent for most of human history and yet we eventually began to incorporate these great advancements into our system. I think the time has come again. It is a necessary and yes even painful process at times, but it will ultimately strengthen our Healthcare System and our society as well as prepare us as a people for the next phase in life.

17 comments:

Jason said...

Interesting concept--Transformative Crisis. I sure hope that can happen. I've read several entries on your blog, and I admire your willingness to step back and take a look at what you're doing. I work as an analyst for a small health insurance company, and from my perspectve it sure seems like we need a transformative crisis there. The system is being atomized and made inefficient by the very market forces that are supposed to make it work. I'm excited to see someone else working to think outside the box on healthcare issues.

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